Short Stories 366:36 — “Louisiana: 1850,” by Jewelle Gomez

coverLast year, during a trip to San Francisco, I was lucky enough to stop by three bookstores in the city. When I saw a copy of The Gilda Stories, I nabbed it—I’ve bumped into a few of the Gilda stories here and there, but I’d never read the original book of tales in which we meet Gilda for the first time, though events from that piece are mentioned in the others. I also got to hear Gomez speak one year at Saints & Sinners in New Orleans, and she was incredible. Because I came into the Gilda tales sideways, though “Storyville” first, I hadn’t realized the book was a mosaic novel, but since the stories do self-contain and I can make up my own rules for this project to talk about short stories every day, I’m reading them that way.

I’m not sure I can do this story justice, especially not in explaining the scope of what it accomplishes in its path. This is an origin story, yes, but it’s so much more than that. There is a circle, or a passing of a baton, and it feels both prophetic and familial. These are women in a time and place of slavery and the barest of options even for free women, and in Gomez’s hands there’s this incredible sense of power and compassion to the characters.

Starting her life as an escaped slave at the start of this piece, the woman who will become Gilda is raised in a brothel, taught things of language and the world, educated to the point where she can make an informed choice about the decision she is being asked to make. The chosen family theme is so strong here it practically hums on the page, and the ultimate end of this first story/chapter is so full of potential it left me more than a little bit tempted to just devour the rest of the book in as short a reading session as possible.

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